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New wolf bills: bad science, bad policy, and bad legislation

Andrew Wetzler

Posted September 28, 2010

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Aerial of the Crystal Creek wolf pack; Photographer unknown; 1999 (National Park Service)

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful -- and most successful -- environmental laws ever enacted. And one of the center-pieces of that success is the gray wolf, whose reintroduction and rebound in the Northern Rocky Mountains has brought a host of ecological and economic benefits to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Wolves, once almost totally absent from the lower-48, have rebounded in the West and can now also be found in Oregon and Washington (as well as the occasional wanderer in Utah and Colorado).

But wolves have not fully recovered yet.

The best science we have tells us that the current populations -- about 1,700 individuals spread across Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana -- is close, but not quite there. Part of the Act’s strength lies in its insistence that populations be treated as a whole (and not cut up piecemeal between random political boundaries) and that no species, from the littlest insect to the biggest leviathan, be added or removed from the federal endangered species list unless that move is supported by the best scientific information available.

Today, Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester decided to ignore all that. Instead, they introduced a bill that would delist wolves in Montana and Idaho based on existing state management plans that are grossly inadequate and based on deeply flawed recovery targets set by the federal government more than two decades ago. According to these figures, wolves can be considered “recovered” with a population as low as 300 individuals, far lower than science demands.

Not to be outdone, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch already introduced a bill that would delist the wolf throughout all of the Northern Rockies, including the fledgling populations in Washington and Oregon, based on the same paltry numbers. In the House, Representative Chet Edwards introduced a bill that goes even further, simply stripping the Endangered Species Act of the ability to ever protect wolves, no matter what their population numbers.

If passed, any of these bills will rip the heart out of the Endangered Species Act and set a terrible precedent for wildlife management generally. The Senators took umbrage with a federal court decision last month that put wolves back on the endangered species list---in DC's charged political atmosphere, will elected representatives simply do an end-run around the judiciary and pass a new law every time there is a decision they don't like? Is this really how we want to make environmental policy? Not based on science, or principled environmental laws, or the judicial process, but instead based on who has the best friends in Congress? What’s going to happen to our natural heritage if every Senator and Congressperson feels empowered to carve out exemptions to the Endangered Species Act for those animals and plants we find it too inconvenient to protect?

I had hoped that Senators Baucus and Tester could be the adults in the room, helping to broker a real solution to the problem of wolf conservation in the Rockies. Instead, they are ignoring the science and trying an end-run around the judicial system.

I think most Americans would rather see Congress do what it can to create jobs, fix our financial mess, or address our energy issues, rather than undermining bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act.


Photo courtesy National Park Service

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ghSep 29 2010 09:27 AM

These vermin have decimated the elk populations in some areas.

The Federal Government told the states that 150 in each State was all they had to put up with.

I think the 3s method will eventually be used cuz the bunny huggers just don't get it.

Victoria TaylorSep 29 2010 11:13 AM

gh, you are mistaken. Elk populations are not being 'decimated' by wolves.

Wolfe TimSep 29 2010 11:44 AM

Where is the science that says the wolf is not recovered? Why did old time settlers and mountain men shoot wolves on site. As I understand, it ammunition was coveted and not wasted. How much money have the wolf support organizations put on the ground as opposed to paying lawers? State fish and wildlife agencies are trained and paid to manage our wildlife. If they don't know what is going on with the wolves why do we have them. My guess is that wolves are not that neat and need to be managed like the rest of our wildlife and there is no science saying they are not recovered and the lawers are getting all the money.

Tony the WOLFMANSep 29 2010 01:16 PM

"We NEED These Wonderful Creatures with us here!!!!!!!!!!!!
They NEED our help, to preserve THEIR RIGHT to live on this PLANET" !!!!

susie crabtreeSep 29 2010 01:35 PM


JoeSep 29 2010 04:19 PM

Ammunition was a tool, it was to be used for a purpose. It was not precious as in gold or silver. That said it wasn't mountain men who went out on a crusade to rid the world of wolves because if their inherent evil. They did so because they were paid by ranchers. Why would the ranchers pay for that? Because that is how they make their money. Wolves literally eat into that. These are also the same people who are trying to get the wolf delisted from the endangered species act.

The real problem isn't about how many wolves their should be. The problem is how do we divide the land and for what purpose? Opening it all up to agricultural practices has a lot of negative side effects. This is why the grey wolf was reintroduced in the first place. It is also why ranchers have been fighting this since they were reintroduced.

In the end, I bet pimps would love it if the cops didn't do sting operations. However no one is guaranteed a livelihood. If ranchers can't deal with the costs of doing business maybe they should be in business.

Lynn BrewerSep 29 2010 04:28 PM

Thanks for this great article Andrew! I was thinking the same thing: everytime someone in power doesn't like the outcome to a particular issue, they stack the deck in order to get their way. No wonder why American citizens are so fed up with our current congress!

Baucus and Tester should be careful. They're just placating a vocal minority of westerners. This could come back to bite them in the behind.

MicahSep 29 2010 07:37 PM

In regards to the Elk comment. You do know some states, like Washington state, have extended their elk and deer hunting seasons because there's and over population of deer which is causing severe deforestation. Seriously. Just like some states have issued "destroy on site" orders for cougars.

The natural balance has been completely destroyed without wolves around. There's no predator to get rid of the cougars, coyotes and deer, and those populations have exploded. There aren't enough wolves to do the damage to the deer, cougar and coyotes populations that people are saying. If there's an increase in big game animals, there's going to be an increase in hunters.

I believe the law states that the BREEDING population has to be about 5000 individuals. Alaska is the only state in the country that has that large of a population.

The point is the US NEEDS wolves just like we need the American Jaguar. Believe it or not, wolves actually help herds. Wolves NEVER go after healthy strong animals. A healthy deer can out run a wolf and can kill it. Wolves hunt the injured, the sick and the young. Because of this, all that's left in the herd are the strongest, healthiest animals. Coyotes and Cougars can't do this effectively. Big cats, aren't as opportunistic as wolves and will attack the healthy deer if they can. And coyotes would probably only be able to attack the VERY sick and young, as they don't have the speed or endurance or size that wolves have. Also, because of their size, and because they're pack animals wolves eat more than coyotes and cougars. And wolves and built to hunt deer.

It should also be said, that, currently, if a species only has 300 members, it's considered "Extinct in the Wild" or "Critical." It's a little ironic to take them off the Endangered Species Act when they're still Endangered.

People who say that wolves should be hunted are just ignorant. Look: if you put your cattle in a itty bitty pin outside, you're creating a free buffet. Yeah, EVERY predator is would hunt animals on a farm, especially if there's not enough room for the animals to run away. There are steps you can take to prevent wolves from attacking the healthy animals. (such as leaving the sick and overly old animals FOR the wolves to eat. Their meat won't be healthy for human consumption anyway, and it would ultimately make the rest of the herd stronger.) Instead of seeking to destroy our heritage, which no one really has a right to destroy, let's work on protecting it.

Kelly WattsSep 30 2010 12:11 AM

Elks are not endangered and destroy the native trees, wolves help to reduce the destruction of the trees. Trees reduce our carbon footprint, elks do not ....

amanda wolfgirlSep 30 2010 06:56 AM

Eradicating wildlife is not a sound 'wildlife managment plan'. It is based on lobbyists who decide that human hunters who pay big $ for the pleasure they find in slaughter are worth more than our wildlife. The Fish&Wildlife agencies are rogue and are acting solely to protect that lobby, not to fulfill their own agency charter which is the protection of the ecological balance. Annihilation of a given species is never the answer. Every animal has as much right to be on God's Earth as you do.

Ron AndrioloSep 30 2010 12:04 PM

The facts are in and are clear: the wolf was not endangered in the first place -- there are over 70,000 of them in Alaska and Canada

The wolves have totally exceeded all population recovery goals by at least 10 times and there are likely more than that

The wolves kill far more than ever thought -- they have devasted elk, moose and deer populations and in Canada have wiped out entire herds of Caribou

The science is clear -- there are already too many wolves to be supported by the game available and you enviro idiots refuse to acknowledge the science. Elk are in high populations ONLY in areas the wolves have not made it to yet -- elsewhere calf survival is less than 10%, herds are aging rapidly and without calves to sustain them they will face a drastic and sudden population decline

Why won't you pay attention to the entire ecosystem instead of just wanting an unlimited number of wolves -- wolves are cruel killers, they eat their prey while still alive, they kill healthy animals not the sick and weak -- controlling wolf numbers will make wolves healthier in the long run stop hiding behind phony science and look at the real facts

ban nockSep 30 2010 05:39 PM

This is what happens when special interest groups with deep pockets subvert the science on an issue. The various Departments of Wildlife are being bled dry of funds by the court cases.

Last Saturday I saw my Democratic Senator at a National Hunting and Fishing Day celebration for kids. I thanked him for his support of Health Care, an aid gave me his card and asked me to keep in touch. I think I'll email and ask him to support Baucus' bill.

I'm sure there are enough Dems and Repubs who see eye to eye on this to pass a bill, maybe call it endangered species reform.

Bob FanningOct 1 2010 04:05 AM

A knee jerk reaction like has never been seen before, not even in the 19th century.
Honnold / Wilcox got the scheduled wolf hunt canceled now there will be a year round reckoning instead.

Bill would exempt wolves from federal protection
September 30th, 2010 @ 6:52pm
(File photo)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- U.S. senators from Wyoming, Idaho and Utah are proposing legislation that would strip wolves in the northern Rockies of federal endangered species protection.

The legislation unveiled Thursday is the latest in a series of recent bills all generally aimed at short-circuiting legal opposition from environmental groups opposed to seeing an end to federal wolf protections.

"Recovery numbers and science show that wolves no longer need to be on the endangered species list," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., one of the sponsors.

"States are completely capable of managing wolves on their own without the federal government micromanaging them at every turn. This bill would finally free our state, ranchers and wildlife from the shackles of federal mismanagement," Enzi said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who joined with the other western senators, says since the gray wolf has become endangered, populations have grown to threaten wildlife and livestock.

"Bureaucrats in Washington don't understand the kind of impact" the wolf has throughout the West, Hatch said.

The bill's other sponsors are Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.; and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho.

Much of the environmentalists' concern has centered on Wyoming, where the state has proposed classifying wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most areas.

Wyoming Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who chairs a legislative committee that deals with wildlife issues, said he would welcome an end to federal protections for the wolf that would allow states to set hunting seasons.

"I think by going to the hunting issue, we'll be able to reduce a number of impacts to the land owners and the ranchers," the state legislator said. "I'm still a firm believer that if they're hunted, they're going to avoid people."

But environmental groups promise stiff opposition to any congressional effort to sidestep the Endangered Species Act and offer wolves less protection.

Wolf ManOct 5 2010 11:59 AM

The Elk are not in danger if this truely was the case then why not place them on the endangered list too. Or better yet why not stop hunting them until the population recovers...
Instead the wolves are sought out because the misinformed public has no idea what natural control is about...
If there is a case where one species kills too much then they will either produce less young or starve to death, either way the thought of allowing politicans making this choice instead of naturalist and researchers do it...
For years the hunters and enviromentalist have worked "together" to help control the animal population but now we want to let the politicans make these decisions for us...
Wake up hunters and enviromentalists and get together and find a substainable solution...

bigskyOct 7 2010 11:37 PM

Very ridiculous arguments from many of these posts. I spend ALOT of time in the backcountry, and I can tell you, there are very few elk left in areas where wolves have been found for a few years. This is more than an elk (or moose) issue. This is an economic issue for many montanans. We need to knock this wolf population down, and do it very soon. Regardless of the ridiculous posts, there are to many wolves and sooner or later they will eat themselves out of habitat and really start hitting domestic livestock. I would much rather see an elk in someones freezer than in a wolfs belly anyday. Some of you people need to get your heads out of your textbooks and look around. As we are finding out, you cannot put an apex predator like the wolf into the middle of cattle country. The people are not going to move out to make room for the wolf. There are plenty in Canada and Alaska. They should have been left there. We will learn to live with a few, but the numbers this article puts out is ridiculous.

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